By Abe Danaher | August 24, 2020
Note: Navatek is in the process of changing its name to Martin Defense Group. The new company name, Martin Defense Group, embodies the company’s expanded vision, to become a world-leader in developing cutting edge defense solutions.
The University of South Carolina College of Engineering and Computing and Navatek LLC are at the beginning of what both hope will be a long partnership creating advanced technologies for future naval ships. While the fruits of this partnership will be great for both parties – leading to significant activity at the forefront of naval research – it is the students at UofSC and other local universities who will benefit most from this growing partnership.
On July 22, UofSC and Navatek were awarded a one-year, $9.2 million contract from the Office of Naval Research. With the magnitude of this contract and plans to bring in many more, Navatek Chief Executive Officer Martin Kao opened a permanent office in Columbia, SC, and announced plans to hire 60 full-time employees at the Columbia office within the next 30 months.
“Academic-industrial research like this allows students to know where their fundamental research is going to fit. It’s no longer just some theoretical construct."
- Hossein Haj-Hariri, College of Engineering and Computing Dean
Unlike most companies where products drive growth, Navatek’s Deputy Director Santiago Lentijo says the employees will lead the company forward.
“Even for companies that make a specific product, people are always important. At the end of the day, though, that company has those products that they can sell,” says Lentijo, who received his doctorate from the UofSC College of Engineering and Computing in 2005. “But for Navatek, today, our most important asset is the people. If the people were to leave tomorrow, there’s nothing else. So that’s how important the people are. And that trickles down to everything else we are doing: the partnership, the importance to being closer to the university to attract talent, all of these things. People are key for this business.”
Navatek’s Columbia office will follow a model similar to one employed at the University of Maine. There, the company worked closely with faculty and began hiring their top students upon graduation. Recruiting these students, says Vice President of Strategic Partnerships Duke Hartman, has been the company’s “recipe for success,” and is something he knows will continue in Columbia.
“Almost every university, every city, has superstars,” he says. “So, being closely tied to the university gives us the best possible chance to attract and recruit those superstars."
Already, Navatek has employed six graduates from UofSC. And, this summer, they brought in three South Carolina State University undergraduate students and one UofSC electrical engineering major for their summer internship program.
“This is how you build a relationship,” says Hossein Haj-Hariri, dean of the UofSC College of Engineering and Computing. “You both come to the table for good reasons. You sort of get into a marriage and they start to get to know you and hire your students. Then, if you really do good work together, after 10 or so years, this gets to a point where it’s on automatic pilot. You continue to do good work, you’ve got people on the company side that care for the university and the company, so they make sure the partnership persists into the future.”
On top of providing the opportunity of high-paying jobs that allow his college’s graduates to stay in-state, Haj-Hariri sees a much deeper benefit coming out of the partnership for engineering students at UofSC. Through the extensive research required in the first Navy contract, and with many more on the horizon, he knows that students will now have research opportunities to work on some of the world’s most cutting-edge electrical engineering work. And that, he says, is “invaluable.”
“Academic-industrial research like this allows students to know where their fundamental research is going to fit. It’s no longer just some theoretical construct. They actually see, there is going to be a ship that is going to give dominance to the U.S. And that ship will protect freedom,” Haj-Hariri says before pausing and smiling. “So, just as I told one of my master’s students who was working on the redesign of jet blast deflectors, and who later went to Top Gun school and took off from those very same jet-blast deflectors: do your homework and don’t screw up!”